For Bob Santello and Bernie Holowicki, they’ve now come full circle.
In a pre-game ceremony Friday night prior to Novi Detroit Catholic Central’s varsity boys basketball game against rival Birmingham Brother Rice, the former longtime athletic director and the school’s winningest basketball coach will be linked forever.
After serving 35 years as the school’s A.D. while fulfilling numerous other roles in the school including coach, teacher and dean of students, CC’s basketball/wrestling facility will now be called the Robert Santello Gymnasium.
“When you start this A.D. profession you don’t think they’re going to have a venue of any kind named in your honor,” Santello said. “And so when it does happen you’re overwhelmed by it all.”
Santello, who was succeeded by Aaron Babicz, remains a fixture CC athletic events. A member of CC’s Class of 1958, Santello still lives and dies with the Shamrocks.
“Now that you’re retired, you have more time and you can pick and choose which events you want to go to,” Santello said. “And you can leave when you want to. It’s more fun, more relaxed from then. But you know when you’re at a contest and you’re not doing well you still get nervous about that. It was great run and it’s a great honor to be part of it with Bernie Holowicki. He was a great coach and a great person.”
For Holowicki it was a night to remember as legions of former players turned out see the basketball floor now inscribed as “Bernie Holowicki Court.”
Holowicki, who ranks seventh all-time among coaches in the Michigan High School Athletic Association for wins (612), guided CC to its second state Class A title in school history (1976) beating Magic Johnson and Lansing Everett in the semifinals followed by a 59-57 Saginaw in the championship game.
The 85-year-old Holowicki, who admitted he was a little anxious, addressed the crowd and was grateful for the honor.
“It was awesome, one of the best things I ever saw in my life, I never thought it would happen until I saw it now,” said Holowicki, who later became the head coach at Madonna University where he still serves as a volunteer assistant. “I was nervous at the beginning, but then I let it all hang out.”
Holowicki coached three high school All-Americans and 13 All-State players.
Among the notables in attendance included from NCAA Division I players Tom LaGarde (North Carolina), Greg Wendt (Duke/Detroit), John McIntyre (Detroit/Missouri) and Chad Varga (Richmond/Pittsburgh).
The 6-foot-10 LaGarde played under the late Dean Smith at North Carolina (1973-77) while also winning a gold medal for the U.S. Olympic Team at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games. He was a first-round pick of the Denver Nuggets and won an NBA title with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979.
“When Bernie came I was a junior, so I only had him for two years,” said LaGarde, who played for four different NBA teams and had a professional stint in Italy as well. “He was such a positive force. I called it the positive pull because every day he was just happy. He gave us all energy, he was like an energizer. He believed in us and he inspired us. And I am fortunate to have those two years with him at Catholic Central.”
LaGarde said Holowicki helped shape his basketball career.
“I think he got me to play with enthusiasm, get a floor burn, and believe in yourself,” LaGarde said. “He’s right — three hours, seven days and 12 months of the year — you really have to work. And when you work and put the time in, then you have positive energy and you can’t help but succeed.”
LaGarde and his wife, Heather, along with their two children, now reside in Saxapahaw, N.C.
“My wife and I have a number of different jobs,” LaGarde said. “One is we run a venue at an old cotton mill by the banks of the Haw River called the Haw River Ballroom. And we hold conferences, weddings and concerts, national and international acts there. My mom and dad recently moved down from Detroit. They’re 92 and 90, so we’ve got them down and so we have a pretty busy day every day.
“I’ve got two kids there, 16 and 12. My daughter is junior in high school and she’s about 6-3 and she’s a great volleyball player and she committed to play at the University of North Carolina, who has a top 20 program, so we’re proud of her.”
And Holowicki was pleased and proud to see all his former players in attendance, many who traveled from out-of-state.
“All these guys, it was just good to see them,” Holowicki said. “All the guys become young men now. My whole family was here. Very good memory, very good memory.”